Is this the Moment for Blanchard
- 16 April 2018
Respected harness racing administrator Karen Blanchard has been involved in harness racing since she was ten years old.
Well known in her day job as the General Manager of the Franklin Park Training Centre, harness racing been an industry that captured the imagination of her father and Uncles and has made an indelible mark on her own life.
That passion has since been passed on to her son Vaughan who now trains in partnership with her husband Peter in Pukekohe.
“Dad (Ken Balle) and his brothers had always been involved in helping out in harness stables, and from when I was about ten-years-old we used to come down to the Pukekohe track when Uncle Frank was helping train his horses with Butt Hair. Not long after that Dad purchased his own horses which Roy Purdon trained, and then I started hanging out with Suzanne (Herlihy) and going to the races. I then met a boy and as they say the rest is history,” said Karen.
As an owner she’s been involved for over forty years, and whilst that time has included Cup class pacers such as Kylies Hero (17 wins) and ten win trotter Yummy Lace (winner of the 2004 Great Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes), Karen this year could for the first time line up a horse in the Harness Jewels.
Luck Of The Moment has won twice now and place second a further two times for Blanchard and currently sits eleventh on the 3YO Ruby leaderboard.
“We purchased her out of the Christchurch sale as we were keen to get a Lucky Chucky, and she was from one of the great New Zealand trotting families,” explained Karen. “She had always shown promise and did qualify as a late two-year-old. She was reasonably headstrong early on but is maturing all the time. My husband Peter and son Vaughan have done an awesome job with her.”
“I guess being in the Jewels is on every owner’s wish list so it’s pretty exciting to be in the top twelve at this point. However I do realise we will have to win more from now on until cut off point to make the final field.”
Karen’s first ownership experience came with a trotting mare named Our Hanover, who hailed from Butt Hair’s breed. She started breeding from the mare and her second foal was a filly by Great Evander called St Pauli Girl, who won three races in her career.
Her first win as an owner was perfectly timed.
“My first winner was with a trotter called Dutoit which we had bought from the South Island. He won his first start for us on my 21st birthday which was a huge thrill.”
Kylie’s Hero was also special to her after finishing a gallant fourth in the 1989 New Zealand Cup.
“He was leading all the way up the straight and got dive bombed right on the line, that was heart wrenching. He was a super horse and I loved being around him,” explained Karen.
During the early 90’s the Blanchards ventured to North America where Peter was training a team of horses. Peter had worked in California before he married Karen and had established a close association with Ross Croghan, Brett Pelling and Paul Jessop.
When the opportunity arose to return and train there again in 1991 they jumped at the chance.
“In late 1991 we took a team of 25 horses along with staff to Los Alamitos then Sacramento, California. The horses were to race and then be sold on,” said Karen. “Nearing the end of 1992 the racing in California was closing down so with the horses and staff we had at that time we shipped to White Birch Farm, Allentown, New Jersey. Whilst there we raced at mostly at Freehold and Garden State and occasionally the Meadowlands.”
Peter produced Neon Franco to win at the Meadowlands during that time, which gave the family huge pride on the international harness racing stage.
“I felt very proud of us as Kiwis training a winner at an elite track like the Meadowlands. We both loved the experience however opted to come back to New Zealand in 1994 to raise the two boys here.”
Karen has also had the unique experience of witnessing her close friends winning at Group One level.
“Over the last 20 years we have had a close association with the Hall family and in particular I’m Themightyquinn. We have been at many of his Group One wins and watching some of that little horse’s performances was spine tingling.”
And now the possibility of making the Jewels field is on the radar, Karen is starting to think about what that might mean for her as an owner on Harness Jewels day.
“I’ll be enjoying Jewels day the same as every time they are in Cambridge which is one of the best days racing on the New Zealand calendar. I’ll hang out in the public stand soaking up the atmosphere, watching the action, catching up with friends and having a bet or two. And should ‘Lucky’ make the field I should imagine along with all of this I will be a bundle of nerves, hoping she will acquit herself admirably.”
Karen’s approach to the ownership aspect of her harness racing involvement is a philosophical one.
“I feel I am very lucky to be in the position to be an owner even though it is part of our business. When the horses race I am thrilled if they perform well because nine times out of ten you will meet a horse better than yours on the day.”
“When they win it’s a buzz like no other. When they lose it is back to the drawing board to find out what we missed or what we could have done better.”
It’s those emotions and nerves that make being an owner more than just entertainment. Karen wholeheartedly recommends becoming an owner to anyone.
“How could you not?! The people you meet, the fun you have, the highs and lows and the places you can go. I definitely recommend it,” said Karen. “Obviously ownership is one of life’s luxuries for a lot of people, however there are so many options available in syndicates, racing leases and part-ownerships so anyone can get involved not matter what their budget is.”
“For me and our family it is part of our life and business however we have had some very special moments along the way.”
Luck Of The Moment will compete this Wednesday at Cambridge Raceway as she attempts to add further stake money to her tally to retain her position in the top twelve for the Three-Year-Old Ruby.